AUBURN — An Obama administration official speaking to parents, educators and students at Auburn Middle School on Thursday called for more flexibility in the No Child Left Behind law.
When it comes down to it, nobody likes being called a "failure," said Glen Cummings, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of the Office of Vocational and Adult Education. That's the overall response he has received in the first three stops of a five-stop tour in Maine to solicit public opinion on No Child Left Behind, the federal legislation that sets standards and penalties through statewide testing.
"Putting too much stock in a test to label a kid, school or teacher as failing sends the wrong message," said Luci Merin, director of the Auburn Community Learning Center. "A test is a point in time; it's a snapshot. It's not an end-all judgment of what a child has learned or can do."
The key, as Cummings is discovering from speaking with the public,
is flexibility within the program to reach those high standards.
needs to be some flexibility and the ability not to be labeled as
failures," he said. "What we should be doing in a much more productive way, is
saying this subgroup is failing in this school. What do we — all of
us, the feds, state, local, the community, parents and the teachers —
need to do to stop that from happening?" he said. Also important is
offering the resources necessary to get the students to succeed.
The legislation, which is a 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, affects students from kindergarten through grade 12. Each state has the freedom to set its own standards, which must be met in order to be a success.
And Maine is no slacker.
"Maine has very high standards and we're very proud of that," Cummings said. "Education is a national priority, but it is a state responsibility."
In hopes of creating a common standard nationwide, thus creating all graduates as equals, 46 states and three territories recently signed on to the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers initiative to do just that.
But what about various subgroups of students who may need special help in reaching those high criteria? The ones who may be holding the others back because they can't be "left behind?"
"You shouldn't expect a kid who's been in the country two years to be taking the SATs — in English," said Susan Martin, Lewiston director of English Language and Learning.
Lewiston schools have more than 990 non-native English-speaking students (19 percent of the student population) and Auburn has more 150, said Auburn School Superintendent Tom Morrill. Those students have not had the same extended years of schooling as their English-speaking peers, the majority of whom have been in school since kindergarten.
Martin said she hopes the Obama administration will veer toward a growth model, rather than forcing students to meet a blanket standard which ultimately forces those children to learn rapidly what others have in years.
Other concerns voiced from the audience included the rate of high school dropouts and performance of U.S. schools globally. Many people, including Auburn Middle School language arts teacher Joyce Bucciantini, praised the after-school programs that No Child Left Behind has helped to foster and sponsor, such as the Community Learning Center.
Information gathered by Cummings and others appointed by the Obama administration will be presented to Congress in January.